Knowles backs new BP merger push

Juneau lawmaker says many concerns need to be addressed

Posted: Friday, January 14, 2000

Gov. Tony Knowles is giving his full support to BP Amoco's announced intent to push the Federal Trade Commission to make a decision on the company's efforts to buy Atlantic Richfield Co.

The company on Thursday announced it planned to start a 20-day legal clock on a FTC decision to approve or reject BP's $26.8 billion merger with Arco. Knowles, a Democrat, quickly called a press conference to state his support for the move, saying further delay of the merger was slowing production on Alaska's North Slope.

As of early today, BP hadn't yet made its move. That decision was to come later, following an afternoon meeting with the FTC, said Ronnie Chappell, a BP spokesman in Anchorage.

``After that meeting, we will determine whether to start the 20-day clock,'' he said.

Knowles said he expected BP to make the move.

``We knew that it was coming to this,'' he said. ``It's not a surprise.''

He said FTC commissioners have indicated concern that the merger would harm gasoline prices in the Lower 48. Alaska's anti-trust concerns were addressed in an agreement between the state and BP last month, he said.

Late last year, BP triggered the same 20-day rule to force a FTC decision, but backed off after Knowles threatened to oppose the merger if BP didn't come to an agreement with Alaska first.

Knowles said federal regulators don't care much about Alaska.

``Their concern is with the California gas pumps, not Alaska's corporate structure,'' he said.

BP's announcement did surprise members of the Legislature.

Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat who sits on the Joint Special Committee on Mergers, was disappointed to hear the news. She said the FTC should take its time with the BP and Arco combination. If the deal goes through, most of Alaska's oil production and the means to transport that oil would be in the hands of one company, she said.

After months of research, Kerttula still has questions about the merger, and doesn't appreciate BP forcing the FTC's hand.

``I think we have good reasons to be concerned about the merger,'' she said.

She said Arco, not BP, has been the more aggressive exploration company, and she wants to know which company will take over the properties BP has pledged to give up when the merger goes through.

``I remain unconvinced,'' Kerttula said.

If the FTC doesn't approve the merger within the 20-day period, regulators could take BP to court. Knowles said that would be bad for Alaska and he will do what he can to support BP in an effort to speed up proceedings. Delay by the FTC or in the courts would continue to stifle production activity on the North Slope, he said.

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